I originally started on this project with the intention of seeing adulthood through the eyes of religion. After some inquiry, this led me to question the principles on which adulthood is founded and the role religion plays within that. I concluded that some recognition of personal mortality is necessary for individuals to transition into a mature understanding of the world and their relation to it, which leads them into the traditional markers of adulthood. The final part of these summer blogposts is a synthesis of these two ideas, death and religion, and how these play together at the end of the adult life.
Results from Does Religiousness Buffer Against the Fear of Death and Dying in Late Adulthood? Findings from a Longitudinal Study show that the people who fear death the least are those who are either low or high in religiousness. The people who feared death the most had moderate religiousness. The authors conclude that those with moderate religiousness are opened to the idea of an afterlife, but have have less confidence in their ability to attain it. Those on the high and low ends of the spectrum are seemingly confident enough in their beliefs that they suffer less anxiety about death, with the highly religious being slightly less afraid. This result would indicate that what you believe is irrelevant, so long as you are firm and confident in those beliefs. Those who were unsure suffered the most anxiety.
Similarly, The Role of Religion in Hospice Patients and Relatively Healthy Older Adults found that purpose in life had a more positive impact on death anxiety than extrinsic religiosity, which actually increased death anxiety. Not that religion itself was the cause, because intrinsic religiosity was also strongly correlated to less death anxiety and acceptance of death. People who categorized as “extrinsically religious” tended to use religion as a social medium where “intrinsically religious” people used it to find deeper meaning in life, so it comes as no surprise that intrinsic religiosity proved more effective at lowering death anxiety. Because this subject dealt with older adults, rather than adults-in-progress, it may seem insignificant to the topic of adulthood. I find that studies like these show the importance of strong personal philosophy, which is usually developed in the tumultuous times of emerging adulthood. The practice of adopting beliefs for the sake of community, as the extrinsic religious do, is an ineffective way to confront the world at large and its relation to the individual. How these philosophies are developed by the experience of death at different life stages are dealt with in the next article.
Death will cause different reactions depending on the time in one’s life it is experienced, finds The Fear of Personal Death in Adulthood: The Impact of Early and Recent Losses. Those who experienced death early in their lives were more likely to be anxious about the loss of social identity while those who experienced more recent loss were more concerned with the unknown factor of death and the loss of the physical body. Both groups were ultimately concerned with the loss of individual self-fulfillment. This result may seem like common sense, while those who experience early loss see their personal death further from themselves and in the distant future, and those who experience it later may see it looming on their own horizon. The authors postulate that fear over loss of self-fulfillment is seen in both early and recent losses because pursuit of meaning and purpose begin earlier in life and remains constant throughout. All in all, the authors conclude that death is a complicated subject, one that has multiple facets that can be effected by personality, personal experience, and cultural teachings.
I still believe that death plays an increasing important role in the life of adult human beings. Adulthood is not a set of isolated experiences and no one would agree to them if they did not have personal motivation to do so, regardless of how much influence is exerted over them. However, I also recognize that some people can recognize the joys of sharing life without having to be confronted by the inevitability of death and this, though the two ideas are intimately tied together, is another possible avenue through which to find maturity. I can certainly say that working with the Adulthood team has certainly showed me the joy of life in other people, people who I happily call my friends. I has been a joy to work on this project and I look forward to working with everyone on future research.